Questions surround Magpies in AFL

The debate was worth having – did Essendon’s makeshift team deserve to play this year in the AFL’s showpiece Anzac Day blockbuster?

In the space of five weeks, an entirely different set of questions have emerged ahead of the biggest game of the season outside the finals.

What is wrong with Collingwood? Can they make the finals? Is it coach Nathan Buckley’s game plan or is his list overrated? How long will Travis Cloke be in the VFL?

The Magpies will still start favourites, simply because Essendon’s team of kids, top-ups and a few stars does not stack up on paper.

But Bombers coach John Worsfold now knows that how they resolved to attack this season is working as they cope without 12 suspended players.

Whatever happens on Monday, Essendon will take the game up to Collingwood.

They pushed Geelong for three quarters last week and if they can do the same on Monday, that might just be enough to crack the misfiring Magpies.

“They were disappointed they couldn’t run the game out (last weekend) and, at least if not win, then be right there at the end.

“So we’re aiming to be better than that again.

“We’re looking for a win.”

Buckley has no such certainty about what his team will bring.

In the last month he has identified contested work and then defence as being key issues.

They can be fixed.

But after St Kilda and Melbourne sliced them open in the last fortnight, another bad performance on such a prominent stage would be disastrous.

This is a season-defining match for the Magpies.

And on Sunday they lost Ben Sinclair to concussion, with Brayden Maynard taking his place.

That means four changes to a team that so far this season have shown practically no signs they can return to the top eight.

Cloke, their star key forward and most experienced player, was dropped to the VFL as he tries to repair his shattered form.

Tom Langdon (knee) continues their bad run with injury, which obviously has contributed to their early-season woes, while Jesse White was also dropped.

American recruit Mason Cox, who is 211cm tall, and upgraded rookie Josh Smith will make their AFL debuts and defender Jack Frost returns.

Jayden Laverde’s shoulder injury is a setback for Essendon, but Courtenay Dempsey will bring experience as he returns from suspension.

The Bombers also dropped Patrick Ambrose and Sam Grimley is the latest top-up player to make his Essendon debut.

However the teams stack up, Essendon already have had a big win ahead of Monday.

Only last month, commentator Dennis Cometti raised the question about whether Essendon deserved to play in this year’s Anzac Day match.

Essendon, like Collingwood, have a 1-3 record – but unlike the Magpies, they are performing above expectations.

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